Some given early access to pension funds
PENSION savers will get limited access to their funds before they retire after the Government bowed to pressure from TDs and lobby groups.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan has also moved to cap the annual pension amount that can be built up from tax reliefs to €60,000 a year. It was heavily flagged, but the move to allow those with a pension to access some of the money early came as a surprise.
Mr Noonan is to allow individuals who have built up pension funds through additional voluntary contributions (AVCs) to have early access.
Most pension funds cannot be accessed before 65.
This limited measure may be of value to those who have accumulated significant AVCs in the past and need access to extra money now to pay off debts, pensions experts said.
The option will be available for three years from the passing of the Finance Bill 2013.
Mr Noonan is to allow people to withdraw up to 30pc of the AVC fund.
An AVC is essentially a top-up fund to a company pension or a public sector pension.
They are usually used by people who have not been very long in a pension as a way to boost their after-work income.
Public servants such as gardai and teachers are the biggest contributors to AVCs, which they use to bulk up their pensions. But pensions expert Tony Gilhawley warned that the new measure will only apply to employees. He said as the self-employed do not have AVCs they will be unable to access their pensions money.
Much of the argument about accessing pension funds before retirement was to help heavily indebted self-employed people.
Mr Gilhawley, of actuarial consultants Technical Guidance in Dublin, said any money withdrawn will be liable for tax at the marginal rate, which is 41pc for most taxpayers.
He said it was not clear if the universal social charge and PRSI will also apply to money withdrawn from an AVC.
However, consumer advocate Brendan Burgess welcomed the measure, which he said would help to reduce over-indebtedness. It would also reduce the bad debts of the banks and increase the tax take.
Meanwhile, the widely anticipated decision to introduce a cap of €60,000 on the annual amount that can be provided from an approved pension will have implications for over 27,000 employees from 2014.
Irish Independent Supplement